by chris — Posted in History, Tea Musings on August 25, 2016

Steep, Spill and Sword: The (Pretty Unlikely) Legend of Genmai Cha

Of all the tea stories and legends I’ve found on the internet, one of the most memorable (and dubious) is the legend of Genmai Cha.

The story goes like this:  Back in Ancient Japan, a bunch of allied warlords were meeting to make war plans.  Thirsty, the hosting leader sent his servant to make some green tea for his guests.

Upon returning, the servant began to serve the gathered leaders.  When serving his master, though, some roasted rice that he was snacking on earlier in the day fell out of his sleeve and into his master’s teacup.

Enraged by the servant’s clumsiness and the resulting loss of face, the warlord unsheathed his sword and removed the poor servant’s head.

To show his warrior’s heart, the warlord made a show of drinking the polluted beverage anyway.  But instead of a foul taste, he found the resulting tea rather enjoyable – perhaps even covering up the fact that his tea was … maybe a bit stale.

He pulled aside another servant to ask what his unfortunate colleague’s name was.  “Genmai, my lord,” the quivering servant replied.

So, in honor of his fallen servant, the warlord shared his delicious tea with the rest of his party, who enjoyed it just as prodigiously as did he – claiming he named it Genmai Cha (“cha” meaning “tea”).

And as this band of warlords conquered Ancient Japan, they spread the love of this delicious tea, with a bloody history, with them.

However, a few problems with this story arise: first, why would a warlord name a drink after a mere servant?  It would make much more sense to give the credit to his power and fame-hungry self, no?

And second, and probably more practically, the word “Genmai” actually means “brown rice” in Japanese – so what are the chances that someone who happened to have the ridiculous name as Brown Rice would happen to be munching on brown rice, and accidentally drop some of said brown rice into the teacup of his master?  It’s much more likely that it was named Genmai Cha (“Brown Rice Tea”) not because it was named after a sloppy servant, but rather because it is composed of brown rice and tea.

Veridical or not, no one can deny that the sweet, nutty flavor of Genmai Cha is sure to please both murderous warlords and just average, everyday tea drinkers alike!